Liverpool Heroes

June 18, 2008

Six Thirty, Albert Dock, Liverpool. Woken up early, staring at the rain. Coldplay on the earphones. Somewhere within a few hundred metres of here there are several hundred more astronomers, scattered through space in other beds. In three hours those bodies will converge on one room. We are assembled together to produce a Roadmap for European Astronomy. It might seem interesting to crossmatch the STFC plan and the Astronet plan, especially because Mike Bode seems to be in charge of both. Hmm. Another time.

I lie still and try to visualise all those other organisms in three dimensional space. We are all clumps in the same matter field; moving knots in a process. Tat Tvam Asi. I am you and you are me and we are all together. They are the eggmen, I am the the walrus.

When I was a lad, you were a John person or a Paul person. Well, Paul may be a national treasure, but hey, you land at the John Lennon airport. Our conference packs have photographs of other Liverpool heroes, the heroes of science – Horrocks, Rotblat, Chadwick, Lassell, Barkla, and Lodge.

I have a link to Barkla. His desk is in my office.

C.G.Barkla's desk, 1917

Early in the twentieth century Barkla was the guy who proved that X-rays are transverse, because you can polarise them; and discovered the K and L series of X-ray lines, the key to the shell structure of the atom. For this he got the Nobel prize in 1917, and with the money he had himself made a rather splendid desk with his name carved on. This is now in the Head of School’s office in Edinburgh. My tea bags are behind a door at the front. I think of this as the C.G.Barkla Memorial Tea Cupboard.

Now … his famous work was done in Cambridge and Liverpool (not sure which bits where). He was then hired in Edinburgh as the Big Star. After this he spent the next twenty five years chasing a will-o-the-wisp. He was convinced there was another series of lines, which he called the J-series. I believe he talked various students intto working on this problem, but it all came to nothing.

There’s a lesson there. Maybe several.


The Problem with Blogging at Light Speed

February 3, 2008

February 4th is Across The Universe Day ! But you probably knew this, so why am I bothering ? Saturday morning I finished my toast, went out and bought the Guardian, and found an amusing wee article about NASA beaming the Beatles song Across the Universe through its Deep Space Network in the direction of Polaris. This apparently celebrates the 50th anniversary of NASA and the 40th anniversary of the recording of Abbey Road. Cool, I thought. I can blog about that.

But as soon as I started digging, I found everybody in the blogosphere had beaten me to it – the Bad Astronomer and the Beeb and me ole chum Paul at Skymania News , and Fraser Cain at Universe Today; and its been Dugg of course . Here is the original NASA link. While Googling I found that Chris Lintott, Brian May, and Patrick Moore have a regular New York Times Blog which is also called Across the Universe. Hey, there’s even a movie called Across the Universe

Stuart at the Astronomy Blog must have been too busy doing some astronomy I guess.

Some blogs are “My Diary” by Ordinary Bloke. Some are “Hem. Hem. My Theory” by A.Nutter. Some – many of the astronomy ones – are basically on-line astronomy magazines. They feed off new results and press releases and explain them to a fascinated public. All the blogs I mentioned above do a great job of this. Why should I bother when they do this so well ? Answer : I shouldn’t. If you want to read about it, go read all those other guys ! They are better than me .. and obviously a lot quicker….

Instead I will comment on something that puzzled me, and nobody else seemed to pick up. All the versions of this I have read say that February 4th has been declared as Across the the Universe Day by “Beatles fans across the world”, who are urged to play their own recording of the song, etc etc. Err… says who ? I checked out various Beatles Fan Club websites (like here, here, and here) and can’t see a mention of anything like this. I assume this whole “Beatles Fans Across the World” thing was just made up by NASA and parotted uncritically by all the media outlets and blogs that picked up the press release.

So yeah, its a rock as Chris Lintott says. And this is a NASA stunt. Full stop.